I really dislike the word “success.” I am super not interested in having people measure my “success,” but it happens ALL THE TIME–it’s a service society offers for free, bless its heart. Of course, when you’re busting your ass for “success,” nobody reminds you there are as many definitions of the word as there are people in the world.
Why am I thinking about this now? Lots of judgment in my life, from all sides, which is whatev, but it wears on you. And social media wears on you, and makes you compare yourself, though you know it’s poison to your soul. And there’s a new book soon, and the judgment in that world is stressful in a different way. I’m also judging myself: kid’s going to college, I’m getting older. Inevitable, but it invites my chattery brain to say the worst.
So I wrote myself a pep talk. Maybe it’s a justification? You get to judge and decide if I’m successful (ha! see what I did there?). I don’t have to listen to all the people who keep talking about my lack of “success.” But sometimes the judgments are game-changers.
Let’s start small. Am I famous, rich, beautiful, and skinny? NO. Hell to the no. Since none of that is true, I automatically lose out on “success” as measured by the Internet and most of America. Do I care? No.
Am I a successful teacher? Dunno. Do my students seem to learn something? Do they seem to like coming to class? If so, achievement unlocked. Am I a successful mother? Dunno. Is my kid kind to others? Does he have plans to be a useful member of society? Is he clean and sober? If so, rock on.
I have an average house, a wacky dog, a 7-year-old car, and too much to do. But I’m not in debt, my dog is happy, and my kid is too (as happy as any 17-year-old dude can be who thinks his parents are a drag). I think my spouse is happy some of the time, too (please don’t ask if I’m a successful spouse). So yeah, I have some “success” in my life. Or I keep the bar reeeeeeeeeeeeally low.
Am I a “success” in the book world? Hard to say, if we go by the measurables. And here’s the game-changer.
I’m a part-time writer, at best. I’ve been writing for 12 years, and only have 4.15 novels and 3 nonfiction books to show for it (published and not). That’s not much, for more than a decade of work, plus one of my novels is out of physical print (though still available on Kindle). I have one sticker and no stars for the published novels (for more on that idea, see this brilliant post by Carrie Mesrobian), which is great, but probably isn’t “successful.” I don’t know what my book sales are. They might be decent, but I know they don’t put me in the “successful” realm. HOWEVER, it’s my book sales that will get me my next contract, because publishing is a business. It needs $ to make it go. And $ comes from selling books. If Original Fake doesn’t sell well, I’m done for. Understandable, but still sad/depressing to consider.
When I think about this “not-success,” I also like to think about the definition I wrote down a few years ago, when I was first pondering what book success is. Maybe this is the justification part. But maybe it’s also healthy.
I decided a book is successful (no quotation marks) if
- it gets favorably reviewed by one other person who’s not immediately tied to me or my publisher (doesn’t have to be a national review) (unlike this book);
- it contains some element of diversity (potentially problematic, see this post (& excellent comment thread), among others–I am rethinking)
- it makes at least one person feel less alone in the world, and they share that fact (isn’t this the purpose of books?);
- it makes my agent and its publishing people happy; and
- it makes me proud to read it.
My heart feels better when I take out the numbers.
A year from now, I’ll have three novels and three nonfiction books on Amazon, with a couple miscellaneous short stories in anthologies. Not all writers get to realize their publishing dream, so I’m proud, and a zillion kinds of appreciative that people gave me a chance to begin with. If I never sell another word, I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’m at peace.
Are happiness and peace a measure of success? Hell to the yes.